The case of a teenager accused of participating in the slayings of three men lured by phony Craigslist job offers went to a jury Thursday, with prosecutors portraying him as a full accomplice in the crimes and his defense attorney arguing he was a scared child stuck in a horrible situation.
Defendant Brogan Rafferty faces life in prison without chance of parole if convicted of aggravated murder in the shooting deaths of the men last year. Two were killed in rural eastern Ohio and one was killed near Akron.
Rafferty, 17, has said his onetime mentor, Richard Beasley, had issued a veiled warning to keep quiet.
Beasley, who has pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately, could face the death penalty if convicted. As a juvenile, Rafferty can't be sentenced to death.
Jurors deliberated about two hours before leaving for the day. They were expected to resume first thing Friday.
In closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors portrayed Rafferty as someone who knew exactly what he was doing and ignored opportunities to go to police.
"Although Richard Beasley is a murderer and liar, he was brutally honest with one person. One person knew everything that he was doing. Just one. And that was Brogan Rafferty," assistant Summit County prosecutor John Baumoel told jurors. "Brogan Rafferty knew each and every one of his dark secrets."
Baumoel told jurors that the two were partners "in executing people out in the woods."
He pointed jurors to Internet searches Rafferty did after the first slaying for the term "first kill" and "Sopranos' first whack," referring to the TV show about a New Jersey mafia family. And he downplayed arguments the defense had made that Rafferty was the product of a tough childhood, his mother a drug addict on the streets, his father rarely around as he worked long hours to support the family.
"Having a difficult childhood is neither a legal excuse nor a moral excuse for being involved in deaths and murder of multiple people," Baumoel said.
Rafferty listened intently during Baumoel's nearly 50-minute presentation, taking a sip from a cup when it was over. Rafferty's mother appeared to wipe away tears during the hearing and at one point sat with her head bowed.
Rafferty's attorney said the suspect was a 16-year-old child at the time of the killings who was afraid Beasley would harm his mother and sister and didn't know how to escape.
"Did we see Brogan Rafferty, psychopath, or a 16-year-old child who found himself in a horrible situation and couldn't find his way out," attorney John Alexander said.
He added, "Does a 16-year-old child have the know-how how to handle these traumatic situations? Does he understand the options ahead of him?"
Alexander said Beasley hooked Rafferty by showing him with the first alleged killing of victim Ralph Geiger that Beasley could do anything because he had just killed an innocent person. When they got into the car afterward, Beasley shook a knife at Rafferty and warned him to keep his mouth shut, saying he knew where his mother and sister lived, Alexander said.
Alexander also said it was unrealistic to portray Beasley as a manipulator who deceived everyone, except for Rafferty.
Rafferty "was a pawn. He did exactly what Beasley told him to do. His purpose in all of this was survival," Alexander said.
In a rebuttal, assistant Summit County prosecutor Paul Scarsella said the proper way to describe the suspects' relationship was that of a teacher and student.
"Mr. Beasley was the teacher in this situation. Brogan Rafferty was the student," Scarsella said. "Do not let him deceive you. Do not let him manipulate you because of his age or anything into believing he was anything other than an accomplice."
He said the pair was so cunning they left a $20 bill on the grave they dug for Geiger the day before the shooting so they'd know if the hole had been disturbed.
Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcolumbus.